The Not-So-Shiny Folks
The Not-So-Shiny Folks
Written By Mark Elfstrand, Cultural Affairs Writer   |   07.07.23
Reading Time: 3 minutes

In my basement sits a large, three ring binder.

The contents are the handouts provided during a week long “Christian discipleship” course I attended in May of 1970. At the time, it was known as the “Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts.”

All the sessions were designed and taught by one Bill Gothard.

The binder cover included a slogan, “Let’s give the world a ‘New’ approach to life.” The first session helped in “Identifying 6 Areas of Basic Youth Conflicts:” Acceptance of Self, Assurance of Salvation, Goals in Life, Harmony at Home, Mature Dating, and Successful Friendships.

For teens and parents trying to figure out a world going through a massive culture shift before, during, and after the Vietnam War, Gothard’s daily teachings proved powerful.

They felt “right.” He enhanced several of his presentations with his gifted chalk drawings, which changed colors under various lights.

I was 17 and, at the time, was a student at the now-defunct Lutheran Bible Institute in Seattle. Many classmates had attended Gothard’s fall seminar in Seattle and were sold on the simple clarity of his teachings.

It all seemed very biblical and made sense.

No doubt Bill Gothard modified his material over the years. As I reviewed handouts and personal notes in the red binder from the 1970s, it certainly seemed like Bill Gothard had it all together.

Apparently, he didn’t.

In the ensuing years, many souls came forward to tell that a form of legalism emerged from those who attempted to live out the Christian life as defined by Bill.

I moved to Chicago in 1999. The ministry of Bill Gothard was still active despite having faced numerous challenges to his integrity. To my surprise, the Gothard ministry operated in a Chicago suburb.

When you work in Christian radio as I did for many years, people in apologetics work find you. One of those ministries in Chicago was Midwest Christian Outreach. Don Veinot was the president and co-founder along with his wife Joy.

Don began feeding me information about his concerns with Bill Gothard. It led him to write a book titled, A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life. It was co-authored by Joy Veinot and a fellow named Ron Henzen.

The book provides an analysis of the ministry, teachings, and institution that Gothard developed. A book synopsis raises these questions about Bill:

Are his teachings biblical?
Does he himself live according to the ‘principles’ that he lays upon others, or does he live by a double standard?
Does he bring his followers closer to God or into legalistic bondage?
Is he resolving youth rebellion and bringing families closer together or splitting families and churches?

You might guess how most of those questions were answered.

More recently, a family with 19 children would fuel the controversy over Bill Gothard. The Duggars — as in 19 Kids and Counting. Their family story has some heavy duty unraveling currently being viewed by significant numbers in Amazon Prime’s four part docuseries, Shiny Happy People.

It is frequently hyped as “exposing the Duggar family secrets.” (Just what we need, right?) Bill Gothard gets his come-uppance in the production as well—his ministry is even described as a cult.

Yet, as the Gospel Coalition points out, the series, Shiny Happy People, “has lessons to teach if we are willing to listen.”

I do not wish to rehash the dirty laundry of the Duggars or Bill Gothard. There is a plethora of material to find on both entities on the web and in the docuseries.

Instead, I think it’s best to remind ourselves that many fallen leaders and influencers have had good things to offer. Not everything was bad. We do indeed tend to “throw the baby out with the bath water” when those we held in high esteem fall.

Should we hold people accountable? Absolutely, but be careful.

In Jesus’ day the “righteous” Pharisees complained about His eating with the undesirable tax collectors and sinners. Here’s what happened. “When Jesus heard this, He told them, ‘Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do need one. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.'” Mark 2:17 (HCSB)

It’s good to do a gut check now and then and ask yourself, “What group am I in?”

Fortunately, there is grace that is greater than all our sin.

Mark Elfstrand, Cultural Affairs Writer
Mark Elfstrand is a Christian husband, father and grandfather. A 40-year radio veteran, Mark has been a drive time air personality in Sacramento, Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Chicago, including WMBI and WYLL. He has also served in various ministry leadership positions. His current endeavors can be found at
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